Imagine spending all day doing literally anything else but gaming. Now, imagine reclining in your favorite gaming chair, starting up Call of Duty Black Ops Cold War (BOCW), and hoping to get some nice, relaxing games of multiplayer in.
After a few decent games, you get matched in a lobby with players considerably higher-level than you. Once the game starts, almost immediately, you are eliminated by a cross-map sniper shot. The game continues, and again and again, you are eliminated before anything can happen.
At the end of the game, you go 5-23. Thinking it was a fluke, you stay on, and the rest of the night follows the same trend of decimation.
That is what players of BOCW experience because of Activision’s skill-based matchmaking (SBMM). It needs to change.
Before I get into things, full disclosure: I’ve been playing Call of Duty since Call of Duty 2 on the Xbox 360. At one point, I was one of the top 1000 players on Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Admittedly, I didn’t play Infinite Warfare but, considering how people reacted to it, I don’t think I missed out on much.
It’s safe to say that I have experience playing Call of Duty multiplayer. That said, BOCW’s matchmaking is arguably the worst iteration I have ever experienced.
BOCW’s SBMM is supposed to help players get better by matching them with others that will allow them to do that. However, by all accounts, the system is broken.
Though no one really knows how the system actually works, there seems to be a similar pattern arising: if you do well in one game, BOCW’s algorithm recognizes that and will match you with players that also had good matches.
That means if you’re a lower-level player that had a great game, chances are the next game, you will be matched with players that have more hours and experience. Obviously, this is a problem, especially for casual players, who could be led to ditch multiplayer altogether.
BOCW’s SBMM is so egregious that not even professional Call of Duty players can crack a 2.0 Kill/Death ratio. A quick look on the BOCW subreddit shows the level of frustration that players and streamers alike have with BOCW’s horrible matchmaking.
As a whole, the Call of Duty community does not enjoy this SBMM in the least. To the community’s credit, there have been many posts explaining SBMM in detail and its issues. Particularly, one of the more eye-opening observations is that the matchmaking isn’t actually skill-based; rather, it’s performance-based matchmaking.
(Quick aside: the linked piece above is a fantastic breakdown of the differences between skill-based and performance-based matchmaking.)
In essence, BOCW’s algorithm forces players to question whether or not they are good at the game because the system doesn’t allow them to actually improve. There’s no actual progress because each game can vary so wildly that there’s no median players can see improvement on.
Moreover, BOCW’s matchmaking apparently studies the players’ playstyle and matches them with players the game feels are their weakness. For instance, if a player does well using a particular playstyle, BOCW will then force them to change their playstyle by matching them up against strategies that the game feels they are weak against.
Not only is this confusing, it’s forcing players to constantly change how they play. It never really allows players to enjoy the game fully because they consistently have to think about what loadouts to run and how to play differently each match.
There’s a simple solution to this: have casual and ranked playlists. But until those changes are implemented, BOCW’s multiplayer won’t change. Though David Vonderhaar – a lead game designer at Treyarch – has hinted at the possibility of having separate playlists, there’s little hope that it will actually happen.
Nevertheless, BOCW’s multiplayer is simply not fun for anyone. It’s not fun for casual players who want to relax and play with their family and it’s not fun for streamers and professionals because of the extremely inconsistent matchmaking.
The matchmaking needs to change. If it doesn’t, players will change and play something else instead. Considering how money-hungry Activision is, player complaints will fall by the wayside so long as the money steam keeps rolling in.